I'm glad to be joined for this week's Q&A by Brett Solesky of Bloguin's fine Bears site, Midway Illustrated. Check them out for more Bears coverage, and for my answers to Brett's questions.
Total Titans: The last time the Titans faced the Bears in the regular season was back in 2008, the year before the Bears traded for Jay Cutler. In his fourth season with the Bears, what's the verdict on the trade? How good is Cutler, and is he good enough for what the Bears need him to be?
Midway Illustrated: The question you're asking here, I'm the wrong guy to ask this question. I am Cutler's biggest critic and when the Bears said they were trading for a Pro Bowl quarterback I was expecting Cutler to have made another Pro Bowl by now. Instead Cutler's tenure with the Bears has been mediocre at best and his production this year is worse than it has been at any point in his Bears tenure. He's still capable of big games and playing like one of the best QBs in the NFL but those games happen so few and far between that he's not a reliable play maker. At this point you just hope he manages the game and doesn't throw so many INTs that the Bears lose as a result. The Bears are back to a Kyle Orton game manager where they hope to win based on the defense's performance.
Total Titans: Just how bad is Chicago's offensive line? Do they just struggle in pass blocking, or are they bad at run blocking as well? Does left tackle J'Marcus Webb have a kickstep, or will Kam Wimbley be able to get around him all day with his shoulder dip?
Midway Illustrated: The Bears offensive line is mediocre, but it's not as bad as it has been in the past. It's a great run blocking unit and the only real weakness in run blocking is center Roberto Garza. ProFootballFocus recently rated the Bears offensive line 7th overall as a run blocking unit and 22nd overall in pass protection. J'Marcus Webb is no longer the weakest link on the offensive line in pass protection that honor belongs to Gabe Carimi on the right side. Carimi has been awful in pass protection while Webb has been adequate. If the Bears face an elite pass rusher they typically give Webb help on the left side with a TE, and the Bears completely shut down DeMarcus Ware after getting obliterated by Clay Matthews. They learned their lesson and adjusted accordingly though and have protected Cutler well enough to win football games. Cutler has a bad habit however of holding onto the football far too long.
Total Titans: How does the Bears offense work? How much of the load is on Matt Forte and Michael Bush, and how much is on Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall and the rest of the Bears' receiving corps?
Midway Illustrated: Not enough of the offense goes through Forte and Bush and instead the Bears rely on Cutler and Marshall to make the Bears' offense go. The Bears have not been consistent with running the football through the first seven games of the season, instead they've struggled to find any semblance of an offensive rhythm. They are struggling mightily on offense with Tice as a play caller and Cutler at QB being the two biggest problems. Tice is in his first year as a play caller and the offense is a mess as a result of it as he has no idea what he wants to do or really how to adjust on the fly. Just when you think Tice has a clue what he wants to do with the offense he goes back to what wasn't working. The Bears need to find a way to develop an offensive identity and fast because after the Titans game it's going to be tough to win.
Total Titans: The Bears for most of Lovie Smith have been known as a Tampa-2 team. How much is that still the case, and where would you try to attack the Bears' defense?
Midway Illustrated: The Bears still play a Cover-2 (like every NFL team) but they mix up their coverages as well any team in the NFL. They'll walk a safety into the box, they'll bring zone blitzes and they will put their safeties 15 to 20 yards deep to ensure they keep everything in front of them and play down hill on the football. The Bears still generate the majority of the pressure with their front four and they arguably the best pass rushing team in the NFL with the front four talent they have. Peppers' play is slightly down, but Henry Melton at the 3 technique is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Israel Idonije is very underrated as a pass rusher and Corey Wootton is rushing the passer better than Julius Peppers on a per pass rush snap basis. Shea McClellin is a versatile rusher and it's paid off in spades with Tim Jennings winning NFC defensive player of the month honors in Sept and Charles Tillman winning the same award for the month of October.
Total Titans: The Titans have four starting offensive linemen who are banged up. The Bears don't have a good defensive line that might be able to take advantage of this matchup, do they?
Midway Illustrated: As mentioned above the Bears have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. They have more talent and depth along the defensive line than they have had during Lovie Smith's tenure in Chicago started in 2004. Football Outsiders recently reported that the Bears' defense is trending at a higher DVOA rating than any defense has since the 2002 Tampa Bucs defense. This unit stuffs the run, rushes the passer and forces turnovers better than any unit in the NFL and it all starts with being able to attack with their front four. On a man for man basis going 9 to 10 deep if necessary the Bears probably the most talented defensive line in the NFL. The Bears force more three and outs than any team in the NFL and they have the lowest third down conversion percentage allowed in the NFL since 2004.
Total Titans: Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like Titans fans to know about the Bears?
Midway Illustrated: Jay Cutler is going to target Brandon Marshall 12 to 15 times in this game and he's probably not going to target any other receiver more than five times in this game. Shut down Brandon Marshall and you shut down the Bears offense because Cutler refuses to target any one else on the field very often.
Total Titans: Finally, if you'd like to make a score prediction, please feel free.
Midway Illustrated: The Bears on offense have been pretty mediocre, arguably bad this season on offense with the lone bright spot being Brandon Marshall's production. Marshall is having a big season but that's because Cutler won't get anyone else involved in the offense. The defense on the other hand is playing at an elite level and forcing a lot of turnovers and the Bears are 6-1 because of their defense.
Prediction Bears 27 Titans 13.
Thanks again to Brett for taking part in this week's Q&A, and don't forget to check out Midway Illustrated for the other half and lots of great Bears coverage